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Tony LaRussa, Super Genius

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To paraphrase Tony Kennedy, we sometimes must write blog posts we do not like. I normally use the title phrase pejoratively, and I’m not claiming to like or root for the Tea Partyin’ bullpen micromanager. But other people who don’t like him have taken the pundit’s fallacy route of claiming that he’s not really that good of a manager.

I’m sorry, but LaRussa is a great manager. The competition for greatest manager since 1980 comes down to LaRussa and Cox, and the former probably has the edge. In terms of the sabermetric evidence, LaRussa does phenomenally well, in a class with McCarthy and McGraw and Weaver. On the most important metric — whether players exceed or underperform expectations — he’s Top 5 all-time. He also does very well at the game management stuff people overrate — his lineup construction is brilliant, and given that his job is to win and not to entertain the platoon wankery also produces wins for his team.

One reason Jaffe’s book is the best new sabermetic work in a long time is that he understands that with managers qualitative analysis is important; one has to look carefully at the available talent and see if a manager seemed to get the most out of his team and made good talent judgments. In my mind, his record holds up exceptionally well under any inspection. His tenure with the White Sox is the least impressive, but even so he took over an awful team with one good young player and a hideous pitching staff and won 87 and 99 games in his second and third full seasons. The team had an off year in ’84, but it’s still an excellent record. Where he really made his reputation is with Oakland, where he took over another bad team and turned it into a great one by his second full season. Obviously, getting McGwire and Canseco was a major part of that, but as a talent base it’s not nearly as good as, say, the 90s Indians or Mariners; Canseco won’t go to the Hall of Fame and McGwire would be marginal even without the ire of drug warriors. (Remember that Rickey wasn’t part of the 104 win ’88 team.) His tenure with St. Louis has been equally impressive, with two 100-win seasons two more 95-win ones for a mid-market team that is almost always competitive. Sure, having Pujols helps a lot, but remember that this ain’t the NBA — the best player in both the AL (Bautista) and NL (Kemp) played on mediocre teams. (And LaRussa deserves credit for seeing what he had immediately; a lot of managers would not put any 21-year old who wasn’t a high draft pick in the lineup.)

But as with Cox, what makes LaRussa great is the pitching. LaRussa (and Duncan) have contributed a staggering number of runs to their teams by getting decent and sometimes outstanding numbers out of waiver-wire bait. Look at his 100-win As teams. Dave Stewart, the ace, basically got the crap beaten our of him for every other manager although he was pushing 30 by the time he came to Oakland. He turned a completely washed-up starter into the greatest closer between Sutter and Rivera, backed up by other excellent performances from relievers with modest credentials. He got two excellent years out of Mike Moore and adequate performances out of pretty much any replacement-level pickup. Same with St. Louis — almost every year he gets a strong performance out of a Kyle Loshe or Ryan Franklin or Todd Wellemeyer or Joel Pineiro or Jeff Suppan. When he acquired Chris Carpenter he had missed a year after two horrible seasons out of three; for St. Louis he’s been a legitimate ace.

The case against LaRussa generally comes down to postseason issues — see, eg., friend of the blog Charlie Pierce. And, yes, he’s been obliterated in three World Series, twice as prohibitive favorites. I’m not saying we should ignore that. But 1)I don’t think in most cases you can place a lot of weight on the postseason in evaluating baseball managers or players, and 2)surely his upset win in ’06 makes up for a lot of that. As does beating a 100-win Phillies team this year. LaRussa has his faults but he can manage my team anytime. If he had taken over for Dick Williams in 1981 I’d bet the Expos would still be in Montreal.

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  • c u n d gulag

    Though there’s not denying that LaRussa’s a great Manager, I don’t like him, mainly because of his long history of (what I consider waaaaay overboard – not that they don’t work, so I guess that kills my argument) pitching substitutions, and his recent Teabagger association.

    And, if a Manager can make a big difference, he is a far, Far, FAR better Manager than Washington.

    I do want to make one comparison, for which I’ll probably be killed:
    Neither LaRussa nor Parcells ever won a championship without Duncan and Belechick.
    And both LaRussa and Parcells are raging ego maniacs, and I’m sure they won’t like this point.

    Sometimes the parts are greater than the asshole.

    • Part of what makes a good manager great is his ability to recognize when one of his coaches has a better feel for an aspect of the game than he does.

      • c u n d gulag

        No argument from me.

        But somehow, Jim Lee Howell, the Head Coach of the NY Giants Football team, only one 1 NFL Championship despite having Vince Lombardi coaching the Offense, and Tom Landry the Defense.
        Still, while they were there, in 1956 which was their only win, and after, they made 5 appearances in NFL Championship games.

        Also, leading to one GREAT book – “A Fan’s Notes,” by Frederick Exley.

        • c u n d gulag

          Should read, “…only WON…”

          Preview, please?!?!?!?!?!

        • Sadly, Howell didn’t recognize that BOTH his coaches had a better feel for the entire game and politely step aside :-)

        • howard

          although iirc, c u n d gulag, the only giant coach exley cites by name is steve owen (what i remember really being struck by was that owen, in the early ’50s, was decrying the increasing emphasis on the passing game!).

          exley was obviously a complicated human being, but a fan’s notes is an outstanding memoir, particularly of the ’50s (before the giants even started selling out).

          • Bill Murray

            Given that he later went on to win the Heisman as a running back, he had a point.

    • sleepyirv

      I’m going to agree with hardballtalk- while LaRussa is a better manager of Washington, it’s not that big of a difference. LaRussa could overthink a game just as much as Washington can make a simple mistake.
      http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2011/10/19/ron-washington-vs-tony-la-russa-not-the-mismatch-everyones-making-it-out-to-be/

  • TT

    The ’88 Dodgers and ’90 Reds were the MLB equivalents of the ’07 Giants, ’08 Cardinals, and ’10 Packers–a 10-6 or 9-7 NFL team hit by injuries and/or mediocre play for a good chunk of the season that suddenly gets a rythm going in late December and storms right through to the Super Bowl. The ghosts of McGraw, Mack, and McCarthy combined couldn’t have stopped either one of those freight trains in ’88 or ’90, so it’s silly to think LaRussa could have.

    • c u n d gulag

      Yeah, no one could have stopped the freight trains that were Mickey Hatcher and Billy Hatcher in ’88 and ’90.

      If it weren’t for the Hatchers, and Gibson (not Bob)in ’88, LaRussa’d have two more WS Championship wins.

      And who’s to say if SF hadn’t been flattened by the earthquake, if he’d even have won one back in then?

      Still, a great Manager.

      • Bill Murray

        If it weren’t for the Hatchers, and Gibson (not Bob)in ’88, LaRussa’d have two more WS Championship wins.

        how does those guys play in one WS lead to 2 WS wins?

        • Furious Jorge

          Mickey Hatcher and Kirk Gibson played for the ’88 Dodgers. Billy Hatcher played for the ’90 Reds. Both teams beat LaRussa-managed teams in the WS.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      As an A’s fan, ’90 was a lot more embarrassing than ’88. In ’88 Orel Hershiser was pitching better than anyone else I’ve ever seen. That meant there was a huge premium on winning Game 1 (Hershiser had seen a lot of work in a long NLCS and had to wait till Game 2 for his first start). The moment Gibby hit that damn homerun, I knew the A’s were gonna lose that series.

      As for ’90, it wasn’t until game 3 that it finally dawned on me that the A’s weren’t going to get their act together and win the damn thing.

      At any rate, neither was LaRussa’s fault. He’s an awful guy in many ways, but a fantastic manager. The A’s certainly haven’t had anyone remotely up to his level since he left.

      • c u n d gulag

        Yeah, that Gibson HR was a real spirit killer.

        It was one of the most amazing sports moments I’ve ever witnessed.

        I still, “Can’t believe what I just saw!”

        • mpowell

          I was 8 years old when it happened and a big Dodgers fan. It was an amazing experience and probably the most significant early memory of sports that I have.

          • howard

            i was watching at a friend’s house (actually, the same guy i watched henderson homer off donnie moore with, which came up a few days ago) and his wife had come in in the 8th inning and was falling asleep.

            as gibson limps to the plate, she pops her head up and says what’s going on, and i say “either this guy hits a home run or nothing’s going on.”

            she falls back asleep, and you know the rest….

  • Here’s the way I evaluate a current manager: would I fire the one I have now and take La Russa in his stead?

    It’s a little unfair for this Mets fan to say yes, but yea, I would and would help Collins pack his suitcase.

  • Anonymous

    Half of LaRussa’s championships are drug free.

    • Murc

      Another point in his favor, then. Most baseball teams probably don’t have ANY drug-free championships.

      • mark f

        Are you telling me those 1970s Oakland Athletics teams were using drugs!?!?!?!

        • efgoldman

          Maybe not steroids…
          ’86 Let’s Goes, also too.

        • allium

          The story about Charlie Finley offering bonuses to his players for growing mustaches was just a cover for side effects…a “beard”, one might say.

          I’ll show myself out, thank you.

      • David B.

        Then where are you getting the argument the other half of LaRussa’s championships are also drug free?

        The case against him is he’s annoying. He’s annoying politically, he’s an unsafe driver, and his pitching substitutions are annoying. Should he be in the Hall of Fame? Yes, probably, but not before Edgar Martinez.

  • Clown Shoes

    TLR didn’t exactly acquire Carpenter, but he and Duncan helped make him great. And of course anytime you can get 18 wins out of Kent Bottenfield, you’ve earned your managerial cred. Don’t care much for his politics or his Bobby Knight fetish, but I’ll take him as a manager any day.

  • Jim Lynch

    “Where he really made his reputation is with Oakland, where he took over another bad team..”.

    True. It was a bad club. But it was also owned by intelligent baseball people. As are the Cards. A factor that can’t be overlooked when sizing-up any manager.

    • Intelligent baseball owners are people who simply move the hell out of the clubhouse.

      I’ve often wondered how many more championships the Yankees could have won if Steinbrenner had served real jail time after Nixon or Howie Spira. I suppose I should be grateful he didn’t.

      Look what happened when he left Cashman alone,

  • LaRussa has maintained excellence over many years and I don’t see that he is as tradition bound, or is it stubborn, as many managers (such as Cox). Getting any production out of Lohse is a miracle. La Russa is lucky Duncan realizes his niche is as a pitching coach. I am intrigued in how McGwire works out as hitting coach. But choosing McGwire is classic LaRussa (like batting the pitcher 8th), a risk that may turn out to be brilliant, or not, but he is a man that takes risks.

    • patrick II

      I don’t particularly like many things about LaRussa, but on a personal level I have to give him credit for hiring McGwire as hitting coach. McGwire is a quiet man who was hiding from baseball after his drug humiliation. LaRussa gave him a way back into baseball in a spot without too much limelight for McGwire to handle. I appreciate that.
      McGwire was a smart hitter and the move seems to be doing well on a professional was well as persona. level.

      • I’m surprised this story hasn’t gotten more attention.

        • KC45s

          I’ve thought this, too. Maybe the media is downplaying the Mac angle because the steroid saga embarrassed them about as much as it did baseball.

        • David B.

          Agreed – the team with the biggest offensive production and some aging stars has a noted juicer as hitting coach.

      • Jim Lynch

        To his credit, LaRussa did bring McGwire back into baseball.

        Still, it’s fair to speculate what part (if any) a guilty conscience played in doing so.

        GW Bush called for a crackdown on steroids in sport, in a State of the [Fucking] Union Address, no less. Does anyone over the age of three believe that asshole was ignorant of steroid abuse while part-owner of the Rangers?

        • LKS

          Uh, yes.

          “Bush” is another word for “clueless”.

        • patrick II

          I prefer not to speculatively compare the motivation of someone when the closest analogy I can come with for a good act by an decent person is a hypocritical act by a sociopath.

      • timb

        +1. McGwire is a class act

  • anniecat45

    Here’s another reaction that isn’t fair to La Russa:

    The worship he got from SF Bay Area sports writers when he arrived in Oakland in the 1980s irritated the living daylights out of me. They were already calling him a genius the minute he stepped off the plane, well before he’d accompllished anything that merited that level of praise. I always thought they were reacting to his law degree, not to his managing record.

  • Green Caboose

    I remember seeing LaRussa’s first TV interview in 1979 when he got off the plane after being promoted from the minors to manage the Sox. (“The Sox” is what many of us who are not centered in the northeast call the Chicago AL club.) I remember being impressed with his work in 1982 and especially 1983.

    SI (I believe it was Deford, but can’t be sure now) ran a number of articles in the 1983 season, starting in spring training, focusing on the Sox pitching staff and coaches. Just their luck their closer blew out his arm in spring training and LaRussa had to make due with Dennis Lamp. It almost worked. He had a hell of a starting staff that year – doing this from memory but IIRC it was Hoyt (24 wins), Dotson (22), Trout and Burns. A great quote from Burns in one of those articles – after ranting for a while about LaRussa he stops himself and says (again, going from memory) “I’ll say one thing about T-Bone. He cares more about his pitcher’s careers than he does about winning this year. And that’s rare.” So naturally he rode the starters as long as he could in every game in the ALCS. Alas, when game 4 went to extra innings he had to go to the bullpen and they lost.

    The ’83 team was amazing in that they started 16-24 and ended up with 99 wins. There was a period of time in July and August that they were almost unbeatable. At one point they played something like 4 consecutive series against AL East clubs, each one of which was in first when the series started and had fallen out of first by the time the series ended.

    And yet … stunningly … the average Sox fan LOATHED LaRussa. I never got that at all. They were ready to lynch him at the start of the ’83 season and again one month into ’84. They couldn’t wait for him to get fired. I still can’t explain that. But, in large part because of that I rooted for him at Oakland and later St. Louis.

    • calling all toasters

      the average Sox fan LOATHED LaRussa.

      The average Sox fan also thought that Ron Kittle was the second coming of Harmon Killebrew.

  • Michael Drew

    Don’t clubs want to win post-season series? Are we saying that Charlie Manuel outmanaged LaRussa this year? It seems to me that solving the twin problems of 1) mapping a starting rotation onto a 5-7-7 game postseason tournament, and 2) ensuring that players are able to perform at or above their regular-season standard when the lights and pressure are on must be the criterion for separating elite managers from good managers. Any manager who cannot get a good team to the playoffs is clearly not in the discussion for even being a good manager, but it doesn’t follow that managing a good team to a 100-win season rather than a 90-win season defines greatness. The idea is to get to the postseason – and win it. How is that not then a primary criterion for greatness in managing baseball?

    • L2P

      Small sample sizes, outsized effects from players, and random crap means that the playoffs, while not as bad as football or the NCAA, aren’t really a good basis to judge.

      Look at 1988. Is LaRussa a lesser manager b/c Gibson managed to crank out a homer, Hershisher was unbeatable, and the Dodgers grabbed another win? (Don’t get me wrong, I bleed Dodger blue – I love Lasorda.) Do you think juggling the lineup was going to fix that?

      • timb

        excellent point. LaRussa is no more responsible for that outcome than when HOF’s Billy Bates, Chris Sabo, and Joe Oliver strung together three hit in a row to beat Eckersly in 1990.

        The playoffs are luck

    • Furious Jorge

      This argument reminds me – perhaps unfairly – of what old-tyme baseball curmudgeons say about the value of wins as a pitching statistic: that it’s a valuable metric because the best pitchers “find a way to win,” even if these curmudgeons never seem to be able to explain exactly how a pitcher is supposed to fix the problem of poor run support.

    • Funny you mention Manuel. Here’s a guy who has led his team to the playoffs five years in a row (after barely missing the wild card the previous two), winning just one World Series while appearing in two.

      I mention that last, because the Phillies are only one of three teams to qualify for the playoffs at least four consecutive seasons (that’s parity for ya, I guess).

      Would anyone pick him as a great manager? I sure wouldn’t.

      This year, for example, he pulled the whip out of the bag on the way to the playoffs, playing much of his “A” line-up in meaningless games (in pretty crappy weather, too) down the stretch when he had very little to gain (home field advantage, maybe).

      The scuttlebutt is that the clubhouse was a really unhappy place.

      Somehow, Manuel managed to lose a series to the Cards with arguably the four best pitchers in the league on his staff, and certainly the best rotation since the 1964 Dodgers.

      Note the progression: World Series win in 2008, Series loss in 2009, Championship series loss in 2010, Divisional series loss in 2011. The only bright note in all that losing is that, so far, each loss has been to the eventual Series winner.

  • Bill Murray

    Canseco won’t go to the Hall of Fame and McGwire would be marginal even without the ire of drug warriors.

    I think this statement is ridiculous. McGwire is in the top-100 all time in WAR, and around the 10th best first baseman in history and is 10th all time in homers. If these were done without the steroids, McGwire is clearly a HoFer. Whether he could have done this without steroids is a separate question.

    Canseco won’t go into the HoF but to pretend he wasn’t a superstar in his A’s years is pretty unrealistic, too. From ages 23-26 he averaged over 5 WAR per season with three very good seasons and 1 injury hit season, won an MVP (unanimously), led the league in homers twice and was the first player to have a 40-40 season. After he was traded to Texas and blew out his arm pitching he was only intermittently successful, but from 88-91 he was one of the top players in the league.

    Also the A’s won 76 and 77 games the years before LaRussa took over, so they were more mediocre than bad

    • howard

      mcgwire only had 7 seasons of at least 150 games, and many of the rest he was missed a considerable number of games.

      for me, and for many, part of greatness is showing up on the lineup card every day, and that’s too injury-marked a career for hall of fame status (mickey mantle, the gold standard for a career of injury-plagued greatness, and playing largely in the 154-game era, had 12 years of 143 games or above).

      • Just as I hate to admit that LaRussa is a great manager, I hate to admit that McGwire belongs in the HOF. My feelings about both are irrelevant to what the evidence shows.

        • Scott Lemieux

          To be clear, I would vote for him and think he was a great player. But his short career makes him marginal by the standards traditionally used by Hof voters.

          • This is one of those instances where impact trumps longevity. It would be hard to argue that McWire didn’t change the game, particularly at a time when it desperately needed a lift.

            OK, he did it rather…shadily…but he embodies that change, for better or worse.

      • timb

        McGwire is STILL a HOF in my book.

        • howard

          of course, i’m on record on this site as thinking there are too many players in the hall of fame anyhow, but fwiw:

          i did a quick check of first basemen in the hall of fame and the only one who had similarly low numbers of high-game seasons was johnny mize, who merely missed 4 years of his prime to world war ii.

          against that, we have to weigh that mcgwire’s offensive contribution was greater than virtually all of the hall of fame first basemen (his career ops lags only gehrig, foxx, and greenberg and is just ahead of mize). when you add in his career-best home run percentage, i can certainly agree with any argument that his overall performance is clearly of hall-of-fame calibre.

          but for me, it does come down to the lack of full-time seasons….

  • LKS

    My Inner Statistician tells me that getting players to play above expectations over the course of a 162-game season against opponents spanning the range of competitiveness is much easier than getting them to play above expectations in a 19-game playoff run against the cream of the crop.

    For that reason, I tend to be more impressed with playoff results than big regular season numbers.

    Having said that, I think just getting to the WS is a remarkable achievement, and doing it several times, even if the losses outnumber the victories, should probably automatically grant Genius status to any manager in the post 5-7-7 world. That’s especially true in the NL, which I think in most years is more competitively balanced than the AL.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Here’s a question: who is the manager who has consistently proven this alleged ability to win in the postseason? Certainly, we cannot mean Joe Torre, whose team was the first in history to blow a 3-0 lead. And yet, as far as I can tell after expansion he’s the only candidate. And managers who only have to win one series aren’t comparable.

      • howard

        not only blew a 3-0 lead, but blew it in a way specific to the strengths of his managerial style, namely, in this case, his commitment to el duque in game 4 (since the starting matchups were entirely unfavorable to the yanks going forward).

        not that i’m bitter, of course….

        larussa certainly managed well enough tonight.

      • seeker6079

        “Here’s a question: who is the manager who has consistently proven this alleged ability to win in the postseason?”

        Cito Gaston.

    • timb

      the playoffs are a crapshoot.

      You are subscribing to the Monty Burns theory of managing: “I told him to hit that home run.”

      No manager was responsible for Jeremy Giambi not sliding, no manager told Kirby Pucket to jump at the wall and take away a game winning double, and no manager pulled his infield in from double play depth so Luis Gonzalez could hit a tiny flare to win the World Series.

      Oh, hold it, an over-over-rated manager did the last one and lost the World Series

    • patrick II

      I agree with your inner statistician’s first paragraph about the regular season, which leads me to disagree with your second paragraph about the playoffs. Very good managers often get their less talented teams into the playoffs because over the long haul against average teams their management makes more difference. Once in the playoffs they are overmatched against more talented teams.
      In the NBA the Chicago Bulls were an example of this. Tom Thibodeau had the Bulls playing great team basketball and great defense, keeping the game close until the 4th quarter when he turned the game over to Derek Rose who seemed to pull rabbits out of hats. That worked for the regular season’s best record. However, when he got to the playoffs the Bulls physically could not match up with Miami and no amount of good coaching was going to stop LeBron from hitting a 25 footer or stop Bosch from dominating Boozer.
      Good managers give their teams the best opportunity to win, but it sometimes take those teams farther than their talent would otherwise allow.

    • Anonymous

      My Inner Statistician tells me that getting players to play above expectations over the course of a 162-game season against opponents spanning the range of competitiveness is much easier than getting them to play above expectations in a 19-game playoff run against the cream of the crop.

      For that reason, I tend to be more impressed with playoff results than big regular season numbers.

      My inner statistician tells me we should evaluate managers on criteria we have good theoretical and/or empirical reasons to believe they meaningfully differ. I don’t think this is one of them.

  • hickes01

    OK. Let’s talk about Bobby Cox. Nice guy, but great Manager? I don’t see it. He always looked like he didn’t know where was.

    • Tybalt

      Cox ran a pitching staff better than any other manager in the history of the game. That counts for a lot.

      • Cox also had a genius in Scheurholz (sp?) for most of that time.

        The Braves were never afraid to let a star player go, no matter how big a name or how sentimental the memories, if they felt they could replace him.

        Their pitching staff and the changes it went through, is a testament to that quality.

    • timb

      Jesus, he won his division 12 years and made over the team like 3 times in the process. You don’t want to be married to him, apparently, but he was an awesome manager

      • Scott Lemieux

        Yeah, he took over two horrible teams and immediately had them in consistent contention, in one case for more than a decade. What the hell else do you want?

  • mark f

    The case against LaRussa generally comes down to postseason issues — see, eg., friend of the blog Charlie Pierce.

    Yikes. That is far from his best work.

    • Ed

      Very far below the Pierce standard. If that’s the best the prosecution can do, La Russa has nothing to worry about.

  • Captain Howdy

    Eventually Scioscia will surpass both LaRussa and Cox. Unlike those two, he has had success without a fleet of ace pitchers. Further, his recent teams have been crappy, sabermetrically speaking, yet they perform for him, year after year. He just doesn’t have the longevity. Yet.

    • Scott Lemieux

      What pitcher did LaRussa have with Chicago or Oakland as good as Jared Weaver?

      • Dave Stewart was 21-12 in 1988, 21-9 in 1989, 22-11 in 1990.

        LaMarr Hoyt was 24-10 in 1983

        • Scott Lemieux

          You don’t evaluate pitchers by win-loss record. At any rate, this is the point: LaRussa could win 100 games with marginal pitchers like these as aces. (Look at Stewart’s record before he came to Oakland.)

          • Bill Murray

            as long as he had Dave Duncan with him

          • Dave Stewart was a dominant pitcher in baseball for all those years that La Russa managed the A’s.

            Weaver won 18 games. One season.

            Come on, Scott, really?

            • mark f

              I remember Dave Stewart being an absolute monster when I was an eight-year-old Red Sox fan. The record shows he was only pretty good.

          • Bill Murray

            He had three pretty good years out of six before La Russa took over. BAsically he was bad in Texas, except for his his first (partial) season there. He was average to good with the Dodgers before his trade to Texasand bad in Philly after he left Texas.

            Basically from 81-83, Stewart averaged 1 WAR for every 9 full games pitched. Under LaRussa he averaged 1 WAR for every 7 full games pitched.

            Stewart’s second best season was probably 1983

            • Scott Lemieux

              If you don’t discount for the fact that it was 50 innings…

    • Other than the fact that Scoiscia is an objectively terrible manager who can’t even be expected to play his best lineup with regularity…sure, he’ll be an all-time great before you know it.

      • Scott Lemieux

        This is also wrong. Scoiscia (his fetish for no-hit catchers notwithstanding) is an excellent manager whose teams consistently overachieve, although not in the Cox/LaRussa class.

        • Well if we’re putting Bobby Cox in LaRussa’s class the discussion is probably useless to begin with. You might as well just refer everything to the all-time wins list and be done with it.

          As for Scoiscia, he’s very much like Dusty Baker or Bill Smith in letting his performance become too clouded by his personal biases. Whether that’s to players he likes, “doing right by veterans,” or playing to stereotypes of what people should be and the way the game should be play, there’s no question Scoiscia has cost his teams a large number of runs/wins over his tenure, and has enjoyed success mostly because he had the easiest job in baseball, relative to his divisional competition.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Why doesn’t Cox rank with LaRussa? He’s an obviously great manager in ways that have nothing to do with total wins. What about his record don’t you like?

            As for the idea that Scioscia has cost his team a large number of runs over his tenure, this is completely inconsistent with the empirical evidence, which shows the Angels overachieving by several hundred runs. Which seems obviously true; your argument requires us to believe that the Angels should be winning 100 games a year with their roster, which is absurd on its face.

            • I don’t necessarily dislike Cox or anything, but let’s be honest; he benefited from a ridiculously good scouting and development department, and that was really the backbone of those great teams. additionally, Cox was never really a great tactician. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t a good manager, I just don’t think he gets to the level of LaRussa, Weaver, Anderson, etc.

              I’m not sure what you’re trying to say in the second paragraph. I assume you meant to say that the Angels outperform their expected win-loss record?

              • Scott Lemieux

                So, to be clear you’re saying that Cox benefited from having incredible talent at his disposal, and then you rank him below…Sparky Anderson? Fascinating. I’d love to hear an explanation for how Anderson did more with his talent in Detroit than Cox did in Toronto and Atlanta. Anyway, there are any number of teams with good scouting departments who had nothing like the consistent success of Cox’s teams. (I’ll also note that the scouting looks even better because the players overachieved reasonable explanations. Nobody in 1990 thought Tom Glavine had Hall of Fame potential.)

                On Scioscia, the Birnbaum databse shows his teams exceeded their offensive and defensive projections by about 350 runs as of 2006. Which seems about right; again, your argument requires the belief that the Angels would be winning 100 games a year with a competent manager, which is nuts.

    • Vernon

      i did not know Joe Maddon was returning to Anaheim

  • Kurzleg

    I’ll concede that LaRussa is a terrific manager for all the reasons discussed above. I still dislike the guy mainly because he subscribes to the anachronisms like having his pitcher hit the next hitter following a homerun, as he did with Fielder in the first inning of one of the NLCS after Braun homered. It’s this sort of petty, childish bs that’s as much a part of LaRussa as the rest of the positive stuff.

    Oh, and if I have to suffer his proclamations about playing the game “the right way” – and he’s not referring to getting a bunt down or hitting the cutoff man – I may go postal.

  • timb

    Yeah, maybe and all….but I still hate him and wish Dusty would have kicked his old Republican, uncle Tom ass last season when they were jawing in cincy

  • Thank you for saying this: “On the most important metric — whether players exceed or underperform expectations….” I am sick of self-styled sophisticated baseball analysts who think they can tell how good a manager is based on how often he calls for the bunt.

    A manager’s job, ultimately, is to manage the people who play for him. Just because most of that is invisible to us doesn’t make it unimportant or random.

    • Bill Murray

      Everybody’s been sick of Joe Morgan for a while

  • Steve

    As a former Chicago south sider and White Sox fan I think LaRussa did a tremendous job of managing a team that was run on the cheap. First by Bill Veeck, who had no other choice, then by Jerry Reinsdorf and Co. who wanted to recreate the feeling they got as honarary “managers” of their high school baseball and basketball teams, by turning a pro team into a high school team.

    Hell Reinsdorf kept trying to get the Bulls lose but Michael Jordan kept getting in the way.

  • ajay

    The only comment I will ever make on baseball: if you are using the International Code of Signals to communicate by means of signal flags at sea, and you are describing the symptoms of a patient on your ship in order to seek medical advice from a doctor on another ship, the ICOS code for “Patient Is Suffering From Delusions” is “MLB”.

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